A new smart bench with USB charging points and wireless connectivity has been popping up in public spaces in cities across North America: free solar-powered phone charging and WiFi connectivity are only two of the benefits it can offer.
Public spaces across North America have been some of the first to adopt a new piece of urban furniture. The Soofa smart bench is a solar-powered seat made of sustainably harvested materials - which charges your mobile phone, or any other USB powered digital device, and also offers WiFi connectivity and vital information to public authorities about the use of public facilities.
Launched in Boston in 2014, the Soofa bench is MIT Lab's contribution to the increasingly interconnected infrastructure of today's smart cities . The bench, which is simply bolted to the ground, requires no wires or extra devices, can accommodate up to three people, and uses solar energy to power up to two devices at the same time.
Families, travellers, business people can all benefit from being able to sit down on one of these Soofa benches, charge their phones, and stay connected. Places like bus stops, parks and recreation areas have all shown to be great locations for the Soofa unit, and its technology could even help public spaces such as parks or swimming pools encourage use of their facilities or promote more outdoor activities in general.
Collecting Big Data to Improve Public Services
Two versions of the bench exist: Soofa Basic provides free mobile devices charging facilities for up to ten hours of charging per day, whereas the Pro version, also offers WiFi connectivity and collects information about the use of public spaces, through integrated sensors which passively detect WiFi enabled devices within a 150 foot radius. This provides public administrators with a better understanding, and much needed hard data, on the use of public facilities, as well as info on the return of their investment, or the need for more.
Data reports might for example capture pedestrian traffic data and enable comparisons between various sites, they might provide event attendance numbers and highlight use-trends and patterns. Better planning and resource allocation and management are key benefits for local authorities, which can then better match needs to resources. (See here how Oak Park Illinois has been using the Soofa)
To date, hundreds of Soofa benches have been installed across some 65 cities in the US and Canada, and as cities get smart, it's only a matter of time before similar technology will be a common fixture in a public space near you.